PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – Philadelphia officials updated the death toll in Wednesday morning’s fire at a three-story row home that was converted into two apartments.
“Fire officials now confirm that 12 people — eight children and four adults — died in the fire on N. 23rd Street. That total is one less than the number reported in an earlier press conference, when recovery operations were still ongoing,” an updated news release from the city said.
Philadelphia Deputy Fire Commissioner Craig Murphy initially said 13 people were killed; two others were taken to hospitals; and eight people were able to escape by themselves, Murphy said.
Firefighters faced heavy smoke, heat and limited visibility on all floors when they entered the building, according to the release, and were able to rescue one child, who did not survive.
The fire took place at home that records show is owned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority, a municipal agency that leases homes to people with low income.
“This is without a doubt one of the most tragic days in our city’s history — loss of so many people in such a tragic way,” Mayor Jim Kenney said at a news conference late Wednesday morning.
“Losing so many kids is just devastating. … Keep these babies in your prayers,” Kenney said.
Firefighters responded to flames around 6:40 a.m. Wednesday at the row house at 869 N. 23rd Street in the city’s Fairmount neighborhood.
Firefighters found “heavy fire” in a kitchen area in front of the second floor, and there was “nothing slowing that fire from moving,” Murphy said.
“It was terrible,” Murphy said. “This is probably one of the worst fires I ever been to.”
Twenty-six people lived in the three-story building — eight on the first floor, and 18 on the second and third floors, fire officials said.
The housing authority was not aware 26 people were living in the building, said Dinesh Indala, the agency’s senior executive vice president of operations. The agency is checking how many were allowed to live there, he said.
“You don’t know the circumstances of each and every family, and maybe there were relatives and family that needed to be sheltered,” Kenney told CNN affiliate WPVI. “Obviously, the tragedy happened, and we all mourn for it. But we can’t make judgment on the number of people living in the house because sometimes people just need to be indoors.”
The cause of the fire will be investigated, Murphy said.
Philadelphia’s district attorney said the city “owes it to the victims, the survivors, and to all Philadelphians to conduct a thorough investigation into this travesty, so that we can make sure it never happens again.”
“I join Philadelphians in expressing my heartbreak over the tragic loss of life in Fairmount today,” District Attorney Larry Krasner said.